Remembering Bernard Herrmann…….

I am now a full time composer. Amazing! I have been dreaming of this moment for so long.

As this new chapter of my life  begins, I have been reading the biography of one of my favorite film composers: Bernard Herrmann. I loved his work on Psycho and Vertigo amongst other movies…..but that was all I really knew about him. Surprisingly little, when it came down to it. The biography, A Heart at Fire’s Center, is well written and a great education about Herrmann – both his musical and personal life.

There are many examples of what to do: he always demanded more time to write scores than was the norm. He required his fee up front rather than waiting for distribution profits. He was also often involved in the film from pre-production through to post, rather than just coming in after editing was complete. Also, he often came up with fantastic ensembles, never feeling the need to conform to the regular orchestral grouping. For one radio show he did at CBS he was only given the budget for 4 musicians. The radio actors said that they were always curious to see what four instrumentalists would be appearing from session to session. It was often something unusual, for example: 3 percussionists and a french horn player. Herrmann would not be limited: he created the sound that was needed.

There were also clear indications of what not to do: he was often moody, paranoid, defensive, and unfortunately destroyed many dear friendships as a result. Perhaps the saddest element of his story was no matter how much recognition he received for his amazing compositions, he always sought great recognition for his conducting which was just not at the  same level of expertise. The lack of invitations to conduct flagship orchestras depressed his spirit.

Taxi Driver was his very last score and he passed that night following the recording session. He worked on what he loved right to the end. How incredible and inspirational. Today, I watched “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (completely available on youtube), one of Herrmann’s favorites. I just thought I would watch the opening credits but ended up watching the whole thing! Herrmann’s music was fantastic and the story and acting were also very good.  Usually I have to be in a certain mood to watch older black-and-white films, but this one drew me right in. I now have a long list of Herrmann films to watch or re-watch with inspired ears and eyes.

I plan to continue reading about the lives of great composers. Not only is it exciting to read about those who made their living doing what I want to do, it is also a musical education and just downright thrilling! I will keep you posted as a I work my way through as many composers as possible…..

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